Back in July, British Airways announced that with immediate effect, all 31 of its remaining Boeing 747s were to be retired.  Quite simply the pandemic has decimated the aviation industry, and long haul flights in particular, to such an extent that they are now considered surplus to requirements.

This morning (8 October), the final two BA 747s based at Heathrow took off for the last time and flew into retirement. And so ends a remarkable journey for this remarkable aircraft which utterly transformed how we flew. Many people would struggle to point out an Airbus A320 or a Boeing 777, but I think it’s fair to say most could tell you what a 747 “Jumbo Jet” looked like. It became synonymous with air travel.

It’s not just BA taking this action with its large aircraft. Across the world all airlines are retiring their older 747 aircraft or at the very least mothballing their wide body or large A380 aircraft. Some, such as Lufthansa, do not expect to be flying them again until at least 2023/4 depending on the pick-up in air travel.

This is the state of aviation at the moment. Airports with 80%+ less traffic than last year and airlines running at only 20-30% capacity.  There is an argument to be made that the 747s had run their course and that in the modern world such fuel intensive aircraft had no place in it, this is almost certainly true. But it is also true to say that airlines were struggling to make such large capacity aircraft profitable in the modern era anyway. The way we fly and to where has been undergoing a fundamental shift well before this crisis, away from flying from large hub to large hub airport and then connecting to a local airstrip and instead simply flying straight to smaller, more local airports.

The coronavirus has simply accelerated this change and for the foreseeable future at least, large aircraft could meet a similar fate as the 747s, retired and sold for scrap much earlier than anticipated.

Leman Solicitors have extensive restructuring, distress and transactional experience in aviation. 

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